Brice de Nice (2005) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for some language and innuendo
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Jean Dujardin, Clovis Cornillac, Elodie Bouchez, Bruno Salomone, Alexandra Lamy, Francois Chattot
Director: James Huth
Screenplay: Karine Angeli, Jean Dujardin, James Huth (based on the character and sketch performed by Jean Dujardin)
A mega-hit in its native France, only outperformed there in 2005 by the American-produced blockbusters Revenge of the Sith and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Brice de Nice is a wacked-out surfer movie that delivers charm and annoyance in almost equal measure. It's certainly inventive enough to keep your attention, as the strange world of the protagonist is realized in vivid and colorful detail, reminiscent at times to the offbeat world found in American films like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. The humor is your typical stoner surfer variety, a la Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, if it didn't have a plot or logic, except with a French flair for the utterly absurd. With surf culture gaining popularity in Europe, Brice de Nice successfully rides the wave of surfer pop culture to become a vibrant, if often juvenile, love letter to the surfer films that came before.
French comedian Jean Dujardin (Cash Truck, Mariages!) plays the titular Brice de Nice, a man-child living in his own fantasy world where surfing and frivolity rules. He's the coolest of the cool in his community, despite the fact that he can't surf (the miniscule waves of Nice would never support the sport anyway), hanging out at the beach with his similarly-minded buddies, or engaging in a game by the pool where he and others take turns playfully insulting one another in a game called "axing". However, he's just a poseur in his self-created and highly glamorized role of surfer god, and once he leaves he's called to task to prove his surfing prowess, reality threatens to cave in the idealized life he's built for himself.
Brice de Nice is a highly ambitious creation so quirky and frenetic at times that it becomes the kind of movie that you either embrace for its unabashed irreverence or shun for its aggressively-pursued inanity. Say what you will, you can't help but admire the chutzpah of the creators of this lovable nonsense, aiming strictly at the minds and hearts of its predominantly teenage audience, making no effort to be inclusive to anyone not hip enough to understand. You can either ride the wave by accepting it on its own terms, or you can crash out early and head back to shore with a headache.
Regardless of which way you go in terms of your reactions to the film, there's no denying that a great deal of time and effort pays off in the look and sound of the film. Brice de Nice pulsates with ceaseless energy, bright in its color schemes and spirited in its inclusion of music and dance numbers, not too dissimilar to the fun and innocuous Hollywood surf movies of the 1950s, The special effects are quite good, as is the cinematography, and the direction by James Huth (Serial Lover) is as hyperkinetic as the character of Brice himself.
If there is one downside to the film as a whole, it's that the quality of the comedic material doesn't really live up to the quality of the humorous characterizations. Brice and his cohorts can be fun to watch, but if they haven't won you over on their own, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything in the dialogue or situations to impress you. Fans of the 1991 Patrick Swayze/Keanu Reeves film, Point Break, will probably find it impossible to not enjoy constant allusions and homage, with its tongue-in-cheek worship of all things Bodhi (Brice calls his quasi-religious fervor, "Bodhism").
Brice de Nice is an instant cult film that you'll either love, hate, or just barely tolerate. It's not a particularly good film by standard critical measures, but it can definitely be a fun one, especially if you're game for some good-natured escapist fare. Tune in to its peculiar wavelength and let it provide the perfect antidote for the worries of the day.
©2005 Vince Leo